Russia was ready to agree to a proposal that would see Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad renounce his presidency as part of a peace agreement between Syrian and rebel forces that would likely end the civil war in the nation, Martti Ahtisaari—the former President of Finland, who was involved in negotiations at the time—told The Guardian in an interview published on Tuesday.
Mr. Ahtisaari comes with credentials, as he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 “for his efforts on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts.” The 10th President of Finland helped negotiate settlements in Namibia, Indonesia, Kosovo, and Iraq.
The former Finnish premier was involved with talks with the P5 members (US, UK, Russia, France, China) of the UN security council in 2012 and said that he was aware of a proposal that was announced by Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who proposed a three-point plan for peace in the country. The plan called for Assad to step down following the two parties meeting to discuss plans for long-term peace, the report states.
“It was an opportunity lost in 2012,” Ahtisaari told The Guardian.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by the forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, as well as by jihadist entities such as the Islamic State and offshoots of al-Qaeda. Thousands of innocents have also been caught in the crossfire, including countless women and children.
Russia, a staunch ally of Assad, has now taken to reportedly sending in heavy weaponry to help prop up the regime. Russian forces are now reportedly fighting side-by-side with Assad’s and are now attempting to establish a forward-deployed air base near Damascus, the Pentagon has warned.
“The most intriguing was the meeting I had with Vitaly Churkin because I know this guy,” Ahtisaari recalled. “We don’t necessarily agree on many issues but we can talk candidly. I explained what I was doing there and he said: ‘Martti, sit down and I’ll tell you what we should do.’”
“He said three things: One – we should not give arms to the opposition. Two – we should get a dialogue going between the opposition and Assad straight away. Three – we should find an elegant way for Assad to step aside.”
Ahtisaari said that the current influx of Syrian refugees into Europe could have been avoided had the permanent security council members agreed on a settlement.
“We should have prevented this from happening because this is a self-made disaster, this flow of refugees to our countries in Europe,” he said.